Date registered: May 2005
Vehicle: '07 GL320CDI
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Mercedes essentially invented the internal combustion engine and generally speaking the automobile.
It dates from the 1800s.
BMW arrived in the 1920s and was a very small player up until the 2002 took off in the 1970s. It was more into aircraft engines than cars.
Mercedes makes all kinds of commercial vehicles, trucks, etc. BMW only makes motorcycles in addition to its car lines. Mercedes owns Chrysler; BMW owns Mini. Mercedes is a large corporation with lots of stockholders; BMW is mostly privately owned by the Quandt family.
The biggest thing BMW has going for it in the USA is its dealers and its customers, because besides the fact BMW has more quality problems than Mercedes by far, its customers don't complain as much and its dealers are better at fixing them and therefore the problems are unknown to the majority.
BMW's image is the same worldwide, i.e. the "sporting" alternative to Mercedes.
Mercedes tries to develop a unique image in the USA, i.e. luxury/fashion car. In most of the world it's a taxicab and simply recognized as a conservative, solid car. This results in Mercedes being something of an embarassment to USA owners who understand the technical and quality stuff and probably results in so many Mercedes owners who are clueless.
BMW's racing heritage is very small compared to Mercedes.